Proposals and the Art of Persuasion: How we can Apply Aristotle’s Three Rhetorical Appeals



What is a proposal other than a persuasive document? If you’ve studied the art of rhetoric or persuasion, you’ll know that many of the principles we apply today originated with some of the great Greek philosophers, particularly Aristotle. Dating from the 4th century BCE, Aristotle’s Rhetoric discusses three means of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. If you have read my article on the “Seven Cs of Proposal Writing,” you might recognize that these directly align to three of my Seven C’s:
  • Ethos: those grounded in credibility (Credible)
  • Logos: those grounded in the patterns of reasoning (Compelling)
  • Pathos: those grounded in the emotions or psychology of the audience (Customer Focus)
Ethos (Credible)
The direct translation of ethos is “ethics.” Ethos refers to what makes the bidding organization credible. In your proposals, you should aim to establish ethos by using rhetorical devices that will make you appear credible:
  • Use the appropriate language for your customer
  • Design/present your proposal professionally
  • Provide proof/evidence to support all claims
  • Make logical connections between ideas
  • Include relevant certifications, awards, etc.
Logos (Compelling)
The direct translation of logos is “logic.” Logos refers to the message as a whole, specifically the facts and statements that build a logical argument. In your proposals, you should aim to use rhetorical devices that appeal to logic:
  • Be specific and avoid generalizations
  • Use statistics and metrics
  • Name specific features of your product, service, or solution
  • Provide proof/evidence to support all claims
  • Make logical connections between concepts
Pathos (Customer Focus)
The direct translation of pathos is “emotion.” Pathos refers to the audience and the audience’s reaction to your message. In your proposals, you should aim to use rhetorical devices that appeal to the emotions of your customer:
  • Include messaging that speaks directly to the customer’s issues and/or hot buttons
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the customer’s requirements and mission
  • Use language that will get your customer excited about having you on their team
Final Thoughts
Maybe you’ve been wondering about the root of our proposal best practices, or perhaps you’ve studied Aristotle and have seen these connections all along. Either way, I hope that you have enjoyed this simplified breakdown of his theories and how we can—and should—use these devices in our proposal writing. Cheers!

Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)
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